Pubdate: Sat, 23 Jun 2001
Source: Waco Tribune-Herald (TX)
Copyright: 2001 Waco-Tribune Herald
Bookmark: (Incarceration)


Texas Officials Have Made Commendable Progress In Their Effort To Regain
Control Of The State's Prison System.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice allowed the Texas
Department of Criminal Justice to once again assume control over
several parts of the giant 143,000-inmate prison system.

The fact that Texas officials only regained partial control of the
state's prison system, and that it has taken decades to win this
fragmentary victory, takes some of the glow off the

In one form or the other, Texas officials have been fighting a
handwritten lawsuit filed by Austin inmate David Ruiz since 1972.

Ruiz argued in his lawsuit that conditions in the Texas prison system
amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the U.S.

Ruiz was right. In 1981, the state lost control of its prison system
when the federal court ruled in favor of Ruiz and declared inmates in
Texas suffered under unconstitutional conditions in many areas of
prison life.

Texas officials have spent years fighting the Ruiz lawsuit and federal
control of the nation's largest prison system.

Now Texas Attorney General John Cornyn has said he will continue that
fight by appealing Justice's recent 33-page decision that concluded
parts of prison system remain unconstitutional and under federal control.

Texas officials should be in control of Texas prisons, as long as they
can do it in a constitutional manner.

That's been the problem for decades. More energy should go to
correcting the problems than to finding a way to overturn Justice's

Earlier this week Justice returned control over staffing, crowding,
visiting, death row and health services, among other areas.

That's nothing to sneeze at. All those areas had been run
unconstitutionally by Texas prison officials.

Justice retained federal control over inmate safety and administrative
segregation, especially of mentally ill prisoners. He also ordered
Texas officials to find constitutional methods to protect inmates from
assault and abuse by other inmates and to come up with solutions to
the excessive use of force against inmates.

If Justice is right about the conditions, then he also is right to
maintain federal control until the problems are corrected.

Besides working on conditions inside Texas prisons, more needs to be
done to prevent Texans from turning to crime.

The state prison population more than tripled in the 1990s. The latest
census figures and population projections point to another spurt in
inmate growth, which could again land the prison system solidly under
federal control.

Texas not only needs to correct problems inside its prisons, it also
must put more emphasis on education, job training, drug treatment and
other measures that keep its citizens out of prison.
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